Page last updated at 09:15 GMT, Saturday, 29 August 2009 10:15 UK

Bright pupils 'miss out' on place

Ucas clearing service
Some 611,947 have applied to university this year

About 40,000 well-qualified school leavers are likely to be denied places at university this year after record applications, a think tank warns.

Million+, which represents 28 new universities in England and Scotland, told BBC Breakfast the UK risked a "lost generation of wasted talent".

It is calling for investment in more places for 2010 after a cap on places added to problems this year.

A government spokesman said students should not panic but reapply next year.

A record 611,947 people have applied to UK universities this year - a more than 10% rise on last year.

Earlier this year, Westminster put a 10,000 cap on the expansion of places for this autumn because of budget restraints.

It later offered funding for 13,000 more places as numbers of applicants surged but not all universities took up this offer because places were not fully funded.

This year some 22,000 places are available through clearing - the system of allocating unfilled course places - compared with the 43,890 places allocated through the process last year.

Two years ago, about 120,000 applicants failed to get a place by the end of clearing.

Two students' stories of trying to get in to University

The figure rose to 132,000 in 2008 but after record applications this year, Million+ estimates almost 170,000 will be turned down.

Professor Les Ebdon, from the think tank, said many of those missing out will have achieved good grades.

"This year there are about 40,000 extra well-qualified applicants who won't find places because the numbers have been capped to last year's numbers," he said.

"Those people will displace some from the job market or will have to find something to do for the year and try again next year. Some may have their hopes and aspirations dashed for a lifetime."

He also told BBC Breakfast: "By 2020, half of the jobs in this country are going to need people with high level skills and that's the case for investment."

'Completely devastated'

Lara Stephenson has decided to take a gap year after failing to get a place through clearing.

"My grades were not awful. In previous years it would have been easier to get in to university through clearing but not this year.

"It has been just horrible because I couldn't get in anywhere. Everywhere said they were full or my grades were not good enough. I'm completely devastated and now I'm being forced to take a gap year."

It has been just horrible because I couldn't get in anywhere
Student Lara Stephenson

Alastair Hunter, vice chairman of the University and College Union, warned some gap year students may be "forced to take run of the mill jobs that won't add to their educational experience".

Ben Whittaker, of the National Union of Students, also pointed out the risks of taking a gap year.

"These students will be competing with next year's cohort to get into university and I think for the government to be saying 'go out into the world go and get work experience' in a time of economic recession is absolutely ludicrous."

The increased pressure on university places is thought to be due to a bulge in the population (there are more 18-year-olds this year), the drive to get more young people into higher education and the effects of the recession encouraging both young and old to go to university.

'Absurd position'

Higher Education Minister David Lammy said record numbers of people were taking advantage of the highest-ever level of funded places on offer.

"Students who don't qualify for their offer should not panic though, they can apply for places through the clearing system, reapply the following year or seeking work experience or training supported by our Backing Young Britain campaign," he added.

Students who don't qualify for their offer should not panic
Higher Education Minister David Lammy

Shadow universities secretary David Willetts said the Conservatives have been calling for a "proper review of the funding of universities".

"The aim would be to ensure that we don't end up ever again in this absurd position where the government tries to control the detail of the exact number of places at each university, so that universities find themselves turning away well-qualified students," he said.

This year the overall pass rate for A-levels in England, Wales and Northern Ireland rose to the record level of 97.5%, adding to the clamour for places.

Students in Scotland, who received the results of their Highers earlier this month, had a head start on clearing. The pass rate for Highers also rose - by 0.8 percentage point to 74.2%.



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